Take Flight on Orange's Web Balloon Race

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London-based agency Poke is turning the new, four-tiered "Animals" pricing plan from U.K. mobile provider Orange into a hot air balloon competition which pits registered visitors against each other in a web-surfing race, eventually sending the grand prize winner on a week-long trip to the island of Ibiza.

Those interested in the free "Balloonacy" challenge, which begins June 23rd and ends June 30th, can take part by selecting one of four cartoon animals that represent the four Orange mobile plans--a dolphin, canary, raccoon and a camel--and collect "internet miles", boost your speed by picking up planted icons and use the arrow keys to propel yourself forward through a series of submitted websites (via a link on the homepage) from bloggers and participants. "What we got really excited about conceptually was the idea of balloons floating across the internet, and the fact that bloggers and site owners can get involved in a mutually beneficial way," says Poke co-founder Iain Tait. "They get eyeballs and a bit of fun. We get distribution. It just felt like a really nice 2.0-ey way of approaching a campaign."

According to Tait, there are different ways of how one actually navigates through various sites. "[Each contributed] site will have a map of the racecourse on it and you can jump directly to any page that's involved. Or you can do a search for a particular balloon and jump there too. Once you're on a page with balloons, you can follow them from page to page and control where your balloon goes."

Many of the contributed sites, which are updated daily in a set of twelve, have come from random bloggers who hail from the U.K. all the way to Brazil. But Tait says that the challenges don't come from each site's functionality, but the number of balloons entered and other assorted backend issues. "Technically, keeping track of thousands of balloons in real-time is pretty tricky. And finding the right balance between making the thing easy to use yet at the same time feeling like the game play is challenging enough to keep people interested is always harder than you think. But we've now got a history of slightly riskier projects with Orange like 'The Never Ending Web Page' and 'Spot the Bull'. We could all have a much easier life if we scaled back our ambitions, but it'd be a little dull."

Despite the difficulties, and with the numbers yet to be calculated, Tait says that the overall response and contributions to Balloonacy have been positive...and there is more to come. "It's been really great. Especially from the site owners / bloggers' point of view. Which effectively means that we now have a really great recruitment tool for players too. We're really excited about the next phase of the site going live. That's when the real fun is going to start."

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